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From Poetry to Prose: Writing Outside of Your Genre

The Prague Summer Program is a big advocate of multi-genre workshops, and, as we prepare to celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary, we would like to encourage poets considering PSP to pursue new experiences. Be committed to your writing—as you must be if you are reading this blog—and face new challenges as they arise. For poets, we would encourage you to accept the challenge of work outside of your genre.

Working outside of our comfort zones can be a great source of anxiety or discomfort, but growth seldom comes to those afraid of new experiences. If you are a poet—especially if you have never given much thought to writing prose—the Prague Summer Program would like to encourage you to consider writing fiction or creative non-fiction in one of our multi-genre workshops. Here’s why:

  • The language of poetry can often be quite ornamental, decorative, and beautiful. The same can be said of good prose; however, prose often has a more concrete, tangible approach that can challenge, inform, and complicate the ways in which a poet chooses to make meaning.
  • Line breaks can be used to compliment the music or rhythm of a poem, and, for the poet who is not used to making it all the way to the right margin, prose offers a new way of understanding the rhythm—a way that does not include the suggested “lighter” pauses that come at the end of a line.
  • This might be a bit obvious, but poets can contain an image, idea, or concept within a single stanza, sometimes connecting to the next through the use of enjambed lines. The poet working in prose must consider how to navigate similar transitions with a different set of tools, which really helps writers continue to develop their idiosyncratic ways of knowing, understanding, and expressing.
  • The use of commas in poetry and prose is complex, and worth contemplating. For example, a poet might use commas when elongated pauses are necessary—typically this need comes from the music of a piece. When writing prose, the same writer might avoid commas to make the reader feel breathless or to suggest that the narrator is thinking rapidly. They might use commas to suggest the passage of time or to further distinguish dialogue between two dissimilar characters.

 

How to Get the Most Out of a Workshop

by admin

Time is always valuable to the creative writing workshop environment—even more so if the workshop has high enrollment and a tight schedule. If you have ever taken a creative writing workshop at a university, you know that even with fourteen or fifteen weeks, it can be a challenge to work through more than a few pieces per writer. To get the most out of your workshops abroad or at your local college or university, the Prague Summer Program has a few helpful suggestions.

Procedure and Faculty

At the beginning of your workshop, your instructor will let you know their workshop rules for engagement. For example, it is common for an instructor to request absolute silence from the author as their poetry or fiction is discussed amongst the class. You should always get to know your instructors approach. Ask questions, don’t make assumptions, and familiarize yourself with the poetry or fiction of your instructor. Our time in the creative writing workshop can be used more efficiently when we understand workshop expectations and gain perspective on our teachers as artists.

Know Your Work

Workshops will improve any work, if the writer takes the time to understand their strengths and limitations. Investigate your writing. Be honest. Before you enter a creative writing workshop, try to identify strengths and weaknesses in your writing, do your best to make sure you can articulate how you understand these strengths and weaknesses, and make sure your instructor knows how you view your work. No matter what level of skill or how much passion you put into your writing, giving your instructor an accurate, honest self-assessment of your work can lead to a more productive workshop with achievable, tangible goals. The more you give your instructor, the more you will get.

Be Mindful

Take notes. Always take notes. If your writing is being discussed, take more notes. If you notice any key terms, repeated concepts, or if a discussion is particularly engaging, write down everything you can. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to repeat what they have said if you find yourself intrigued.

If you’re looking for more creative writing workshop tips, the PSP Blog has more useful suggestions here.

Finding Time to Write During the Prague Summer Program

by admin

The Prague Summer Program makes a point of giving you ample free time to use as you need. Of course, exploring Prague and traveling is a fine way to use this time (more on that in our other blog posts) but we like to think of the PSP as a generative study-abroad program. The time we give you is yours to use for your writing and, as past students will tell you, the program director Richard Katrovas is particularly open to spontaneously reading work you have just written. Finding time to write can be a challenge even when we´re at home, let alone abroad, but, if you are planning to study abroad as a creative writer, don’t forget to give yourself some time to generate new work. Here are a few tips that might come in handy.

Stay in the Moment: Limit Social Media

At home, you might find yourself thinking about writing…and failing miserably due to distractions. Perhaps you tell yourself, “I’ll just check my Facebook feed once before I begin,” or, “I’ll scroll through Instagram one more time before I begin.” Whatever your social networking poison might be, I’m pretty sure we all know what happens next. An hour later, sometimes several hours later, you have been hooked and your writing life has paid the price. If you are studying abroad, you may feel even more inclined than usual to use social media because you, understandably, want to share your travel experience with folks back home. Do yourself a favor and delete your social networking apps, block Facebook from your web browser, and for the sake of your loved ones, stop taking pictures of your food. Don’t check how many likes your post received. Instead, put that energy into writing. Write an essay about getting lost in Prague. If non-fiction isn´t your thing, write an imaginary interview with the Golem. Stay in the moment. Stay focused.

Take Risks as a Writer (not Just as a Traveler)

Sometimes, letting yourself be swept up in the experience of travel is good for a writer. It´s only half the work, however. What starts as exploration can quickly turn into procrastination and subsequent guilt for time lost. The issue is that there is a difference between exploring and taking risks as a traveler and doing so as a writer. The Prague Summer Program has a few useful tips to keep you on the ball.

  • The PSP schedule includes many free mornings and afternoons. Use these to work and leave the fun for your extended weekends. If you sit down to write and nothing happens, use this time plan which weekday morning or afternoon you will try again. Plan what you will attempt to write when the time comes.
  • Pick a place to work, either in the calm silence of your hotel room (if you have a single) or in a public space conducive to productivity. Prague is full of cafés and the public parks around the Inos hotel offer many nooks to work in private.
  • Write spontaneously. Carry a notebook and allow yourself to jot things down even as you are traveling and exploring the city. If you end up writing something outside of your scheduled work time, edit it when your scheduled time arrives.
  • Take advantage of workshop writing assignments. They´re usually not mandatory, but they can be a lot of fun and usually offer an opportunity for research around Prague.
  • Make a point of showing at least one freshly-written piece to Richard Katrovas during the month of the PSP – even if it´s just one inchoate paragraph! The experience of having something new edited during a conference and, if it´s a fragment, discussing how it could fit into a finished piece is instructive in a different way than discussing work you think you have completed. More importantly, sharing work which you have just written can shatter a lot of barriers which cause writer´s block in the first place.
  • Being in a foreign place makes it more natural to try new things. Take advantage of the spirit of exploration while abroad and make a point of trying something new in your writing – an unfamiliar genre, a subject you have never had the courage to write about, the point of view of a character intimidatingly different from yourself. Step outside your comfort zone, not just as a traveler but as a writer.
  • Don´t be wed to the work you write while abroad. Maybe you´ll never use any of it in your published writing. Embracing imperfection and incompleteness is a major milestone in becoming a more productive artist because it means you can have fun while you create. Make it about the journey, not the destination.

Places to See in Prague Part III: “The City of a Hundred Spires”

by admin

During the month of November, the Prague Summer Program’s blog has focused on must-see attractions in Prague for creative writers considering signing up for the with PSP. Our final entry of the month will give a few more suggestions that we hope will take your breath away when the time comes to visit “the City of a Hundred Spires.” Most of the spires you’ll see on Prague’s horizon are nameless houses or minor churches and cathedrals while the most prominent tower is St. Vitus cathedral which forms the silhouette of the Prague Castle. In a nontraditional take, we bring you two modern spires and one out-of-town spire.

Petřín Lookout Tower

Built in 1891, the Petřín Lookout Tower is 63.5 meters tall with two winding, 299-step staircases for visitors that appreciate the journey as much as the destination, but there is an elevator for those who wish to visit one of the two observation platforms without the brisk hike. The steel-framework tower, as you might gather from the design, was inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris and was built such that its tip is at the same altitude as that of the much taller Eiffel Tower. It was used as a transmission tower until 1992. The Petřín Lookout Tower will give you a bird’s-eye view of the city that is sure to make your study abroad in Prague feel complete.

Žižkov Television Tower

Construction of the Žižkov Television Tower began in 1985. The tower was completed in 1992 and, as you might have guessed, took over the transmission operations formerly run through the Petřín Lookout Tower. Standing 216 meters tall, this high-tech giant provides one of the best views of the city. The observatory is 93 meters off the ground, which places the observatory about 20 meters above the Žižkov Television Tower’s hotel. There’s also a restaurant if you’d like to take in the sight while grabbing a quick bite. In 2000, the Žižkov Television Tower gained new fame when artist David Černý (who is also behind the statue of Freud in the first installment of our Places to See series) installed ten bronze statues of faceless babies crawling up and down the tower, an installation he called, simply, Miminka (Babies). The baby statues caused such a (mostly positive) uproar that they were installed permanently in 2001 and, though they were taken down this past October for upkeep, they should be crawling the tower again during the PSP this coming July.

Karlštejn Castle

Charles IV founded the Karlštejn Castle in 1348, and construction was finally completed in 1365 with the consecration of the Chapel of the Holy Cross in the Great Tower. The castle was used as a place to keep valuable items—crown jewels and holy relics—safe, and as you wander the castle, we’re certain you’ll see that the Great Tower provided the best security a King and a Holy Roman Emperor could buy. Standing 60-meters high, the Great Tower is a veritable vault in the sky that was exceptionally well fortified.

Places to See in Prague Part II: Keep Storming the Castle

by admin

Our last entry explored some interesting sights to see in Prague during your European study abroad program, and this post will continue with more suggestions for creative writers that really wish to interrogate the culture and architecture of the Czech Republic. There are simply too many beautiful, resonant, and intriguing locations in Prague to mention them all, but hopefully this list covers enough of the must-see historical locations to get you started.

Prague Castle

The Prague Castle is the most popular tourist attraction in Prague. If you are a creative writer studying abroad in Prague and you don’t go to the castle, we question your sanity. Built in 970 AD, the complex around the Prague Castle is collectively called Hradčany. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to explore! The PSP‘s guided tour of Prague, which all participants should attend at the beginning of the program, will cover the Castle but this is a place worth visiting twice. It would not be unreasonable to give yourself an entire day to explore the castle (don’t forget the Royal Garden!). Make sure you stick around town for nightfall; the castle’s lights are particularly beautiful in the evening, visible for miles along the river.

The National Gallery in Prague

If you wish to see a beautiful collection of Czech artworks, The National Gallery in Prague will keep you busy for hours. Czech artwork is an important part of what The National Gallery has to offer, though you’ll find a variety of works from across the globe, such as Asian art, European art from the Middle Ages, Baroque period art, and even ancient Greek and Roman works. The buildings of The National Gallery include the Veletrzní Palace, the Covent of St. Agnes of Bohemia, the Kinsky Palace, and the Sternberg Palace.

The Prague Zoo

The Prague Zoo is a real crowd pleaser, and the perfect spot for any animal lover. It is considered to be one of the best zoos in the world. The park has been opened since 1931, and it is the home of over 700 species of animal. If you need a nice, calm walk ripe with nostalgia, the zoo is perfect! And it’s a wonderful outing for children if you have little ones to attend.

The Word Made Mud: Interview with the Golem During Which Katrovas Attempts to Hire Him for the 25th Anniversary of the Prague Summer Program

by admin

The Golem, through his agent, agreed to meet me on the bank of the Vltava, below Vyšehrad, at 6 a.m. on a Friday. It was late fall; the sky was turning from black to gray, the moon was pale and almost full, and the air was crisp. The Golem climbed lugubriously from the river, stood dripping on the cement dock before the green bench, overlooking the water, on which I waited. The Golem, eight-feet tall and svelte (for a monster), dropped gently to his knees, sat back on his haunches, dipped his chin in silent salutation. He smelled of mellow rot.

 

Katrovas: Thank you for agreeing to this interview, sir.

 

Golem: Where good men gather, vengeance sleeps.

 

Katrovas: Your English is excellent.

 

Golem: The stars on a still, clear nights have nothing to do with poignant endings.

 

Katrovas: Well, be that as it may, you are your father’s son.

 

Golem: Swans are nasty.

 

Katrovas: And where indeed were you when the Nazis marched in?

 

Golem: All love is conditional to the extent that all walls are not.

 

Katrovas: Well, given that you were born to protect, and that you failed so many, has your reading of Leviticus altered such that you now favor macrobiotics?

 

Golem: Hysterical laughter resides in every snowflake.

 

Katrovas: In 1989, on this very day of the year, did you feel vindicated?

 

Golem: Time’s march is through the hearts of heroes.

 

Katrovas: And into what? Myth? History? Stupid question. The distinction is academic.

 

Golem: The laws of nature have neither spirit nor letter.

 

Katrovas: And what of destiny?

 

Golem: Father was a man of God, though God was not the father of accountants.

 

Katrovas: Were you, have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?

 

Golem: Čapek or Kafka is a false choice.

 

Katrovas: Do you understand yourself to be a Christ figure?

 

Golem: Gone are the days of missed opportunities dipping into the glorious realm of compassionate rage.

 

Katrovas: But, if poetry is dead, is compassion an amusement park out of season?

 

Golem: Defenestration is the pastime of cowards.

 

Katrovas: When the right hand doesn’t know that the left one is clapping, do demographic processes get gummed up in good intentions?

 

Golem: Our poets washed windows.

 

Katrovas: Thus the soul is revealed. But what of irony?

 

Golem: Thus the soul is revealed.

 

Katrovas: Every July for the past twenty-five years, we’ve brought American and other English-speaking writers to Prague because you, the post-Apocalyptic muse, still do the breaststroke in the Vltava at dawn.

 

Golem: I’m a sucker for sass, a true believer in the soufflé that rises to the fear of extinction.

 

Katrovas: Will you join us this summer? We’ll pay you three thousand crowns for a forty-minute lecture on sleeping under water.

 

Golem: You’ll have to work that out with my agent.

 

Katrovas: Who’s your favorite poet?

 

Golem: Groucho Marx. And a kid in Olomouc who composes in a Sanskrit argot.

 

Katrovas: Who’s your favorite playwright?

 

Golem: Havel and Shakespeare, not necessarily in that order.

 

Katrovas: Who’s your favorite novelist?

 

Golem: Kundera and that kid in Olomouc who’s a switch hitter.

 

Katrovas: Verse and prose fiction?

 

Golem: Prose verse and lyrical fiction.

 

Katrovas: As the sun rises, you grow more distinct.

 

Golem: As the sun rises, so do you.

 

Katrovas: Does a writer’s life have purpose?

 

Golem: It has porpoise.

 

Katrovas: Is that a joke, a bit of Golem humor?

 

Golem: It’s an aquatic mammal, poetry in motion.

 

Katrovas: You have, for the past quarter century, blessed the Prague Summer Program. Do you still bless our enterprise? Do you still approve of English-language writers converging on Prague in July?

 

Golem: I don’t approve, but still I bless.

 

Katrovas: Your blessing is the high-octane fuel of our ambition.

 

Golem: I’m sleepy.

 

Katrovas: The sun is rising. You get the last word.

 

Golem: I am the last word made flesh.

 

Katrovas: Mud. You are composed of mud.

 

Golem: I am the word made mud.

 

The Golem rose from his haunches, saluted the dawn, and cannonballed into the midst of gathered swans that seemed barely to notice. The splash was an amphibrach. 

 

 

Places to See in Prague Part I: Have Fun Storming the Castle

by admin

If you have made the decision to join the Prague Summer Program for your European study abroad, you’re in for a treat. PSP prides itself in offering excellent creative writing workshop experiences in a setting that provides easy access to centuries of accomplishment, tradition, and beauty. Our program affords creative writers the opportunity to explore Prague’s historic relationships, culture, and the surrounding physical structures within their writing. To get the most out of your time with our summer study abroad program, here are a few sights you won’t want to miss.

The Old Town Square

Located in the capital of the Czech Republic, the Old Town Square is just around the corner from Wenceslas Square and the Charles Bridge. Visiting this location will give you a chance to see some of the most impressive pieces of Prague’s architectural history, such as the medieval astronomical clock or the Gothic church of Our Lady before Týn. The astronomical clock, the third oldest in the world, is still fully functional; every hour, the mechanical figures of the apostles bow one by one at the top of the clock while the figure of a skeleton chimes a bell, counting down to each person’s death. If the architecture alone isn’t enough to inspire the creative writer in you, the Old Town Square is full of merchants, performers, locals, and visitors. It’s an excellent spot for people-watching and making new friends.

Find Freud

While you’re in Old Town Prague, keep your eyes open—and upward. You might just spot a man hanging from the side of a building. Not to worry, that’s just Sigmund Freud. The hanging statue of Freud is a darkly comical homage to the life and achievements of a man that dedicated his life to understanding fears and phobias. That is if you believe the statue intends to commemorate Freud’s achievements while acknowledging his phobias; some interpret the statue as a challenge of Freud’s works. Whatever interpretation you value, this interesting and well-traveled piece of art is worth finding.

Alchemists’ Alley

Otherwise known as Golden Lane, Alchemists’ Alley is a beautiful street within Prague Castle…that never actually housed Alchemists. Though the place does have a certain enchanted feel to it. As you pass the souvenir shops on a stroll down Alchemists’ Alley, be sure to stop at house number 22. Franz Kafka lived in this house for two years, exactly 100 years ago. You couldn’t ask for a better time to drop by.

Two Ways to Fund Study Abroad

by admin

Study abroad can be very expensive. The cost of plane tickets alone can be an unwelcomed source of anxiety, and even if you do spend an entire year saving up for a summer study abroad program, you might feel like the costs are way outside of your budget. Don’t give up! You’re a creative writer, so get creative. Here are a couple tips that will help you fund your European study abroad program while playing to your strengths as a creative writer.

Apply for Grants and Scholarships Through Your School

If you are attending a university or community college, speak to an academic advisor about your plans. They will be able to give you some solid information about any funding that is available through your school. If you do plan on pursuing funding through an academic institution, they will likely expect a letter that addresses some concerns your college or university might have. Why would you like to go? How will this school’s academic communities benefit from your European study abroad? Be ready to review your school’s requirements for funding, investigate the costs of your upcoming program, and fill out a formal application that will likely ask for a breakdown of anticipated costs.

Use GoFundMe, or Any Fundraising Website

Fundraising websites are an excellent idea. You can achieve your study abroad dreams without taking on the intimidating financial costs alone. Fundraising websites such as YouCaring, GoEnnounce, GoFundMe, or GoGetFunding are fantastic for collecting the financial backing you might need to make a study abroad program financially possible. Here are a few things to remember as you consider using a fundraising website:

  • The key is writing an honest, interesting, and engaging call to action for potential donors.
  • Keep in mind your fundraising website audiences might have some of the same concerns as your academic audience. Why should they care about your desire to travel? What will this cost, and where is the money going? Be specific.
  • You might receive donations from friends and family if your GoFundMe explores how you will benefit from this experience, but if you want to cast a wider net, be sure to address how your local communities will benefit from your experiences.
  • Once you have completed your fundraising website, share it on as many social media outlets as possible.

Czech Beer and Culture

by admin

The Czech love of beer is serious business. If you’re going to attend a study abroad program in Prague, you should know that the brewing of beer is an important part of Czech culture, society, and history. Beer’s long national history can be traced back to records of Czech brewing at the Břevnov Monastery in 933 AD, but there’s solid evidence that the Czech people harvested hops since the first century. What we do know with certainty is this: the Czech know and love their craft.

Culture

The culture surrounding beer in Prague is highly social, which makes Prague an excellent choice for a summer creative writing program. Whether you are writing fiction, poetry, or pursuing a career as a professional writer, grabbing a pint at a local bar will likely present opportunities to get a fast and friendly introduction to the basics of Czech culture. The locals prefer to drink with company, frequenting the local pubs, festivals, and beer hotels. What is a beer hotel?! Well, these impressive complexes include a hotel (shocking), a brewery, and usually at least a couple of dining options. Beer hotels are the perfect spot for someone who wishes to engage a growing facet of Czech culture while making sure they stay relaxed and refreshed. No need exhaust yourself by exploring right away; the beer hotel is ideal for that traveler who likes to consider their options without missing out on the fun. Try one out while you decide your next move! Or try one out if you’ve had too much to drink—be safe.

I Drank What?

If you walk into a pub and your server brings a round without taking your order, don’t be surprised. Many bars or pubs in Prague only have one beer on tap, so they’ll bring you what they’ve got. It might be a good idea to check what each place has before you enter. If they’ve got more options, they’ll take your order.

Czech Check, Please

Did I forget to mention that the beer is cheap? I forgot to mention that the beer is cheap. When you visit Prague for your European study abroad program, you can be sure you won’t have to miss out on the fun because of a tight budget. With pints for less than $1.00 (U.S.), you’ll be able to make new friends or join your creative writing workshop cohort without burning a hole in your pocket.

How Does Travel Improve My Writing?

by admin

If you are reading this blog, chances are you are considering a study abroad program to improve your writing. But why? What are the benefits of study abroad programs? What does travel offer that is essential to the development of healthy writing life? Whether you’re a fiction writer or a poet, travel has the power improve your craft while providing inspiration that might be lacking in your day-to-day experiences.

Breaking Bad Habits

Some writers say they rely on ritual for inspiration. “I have to write at this desk.” “I can only write at night,” or “I have to write in the morning.” In other words, I must obey my muse and these are the terms of our agreement. The problem with rituals is they don’t require the writer to discover anything new about themselves. A ritual might lead to useful, reflective moments, but often writers find themselves unable to explore new ideas or concepts if rituals provide too much comfort. When you travel, you reduce your ability to cling to the comfort of ritual. You don’t have the same old desk, the same old chair—you don’t even have the same old you, as constructed by the perspectives of those you encounter most. Travel abroad provides writers with unique opportunities to investigate new cultures, reexamine their comfort zones, and thoughtfully engage in new social situations that call for an awareness of language and communication that helps redefine our positions as global citizens. The result?

Challenge, Creativity, and Intimacy

Something beautiful happens when we travel. Our imaginations take over; our creativity gets a jolt that seems to keep the writing coming. When we encounter new sensory experiences, we increase our chances of heightened creative productivity. Here are a few tips to make sure you are getting the most out of your time abroad:

  • Pay close attention to what you taste, touch, see, smell, and hear. You must truly fall in love with the details.
  • Talk to new people. The more friendships you develop, the better!
  • Enjoy the local cuisine. If you haven’t heard of it, try it.
  • Get off the beaten path. Explore the roads less traveled. If you have made friends with members of the local community, ask them for recommendations (or to come along).

No matter where your travels take you, your writing life is sure to follow.